The Church is Growing. Corruption is Growing


Go to other Essay Series sections: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII. INTRODUCTION

The title “Church is growing, Corruption is growing” evinces a fundamental paradox.

While the Church has registered a remarkable growth in the sub-Saharan Africa over the last century, corruption has also emerged as a disturbing aspect of the public life. The question is whether these are parallel developments or they are linked somehow.

Admittedly, Christian values and moral discourses have become part of the African culture. Yet their rooted-ness in the African psyche – to use the Biblical parlance – is shallow. Tales of corruption within and outside the church institutions abound. Chinua Achebe, the renowned Nigeria writer, once said: “Nigerians are corrupt because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable.” This observation is largely true of the rest of the sub-Saharan Africa. Transparency International (TI) – polemics over its methods apart – has consistently rated the African countries among the most corrupt on earth.

Still the contention “Church is growing, Corruption is growing” is problematic. It evokes ‘a cause-effect’ relationship between the growth of the church and growth of corruption in Africa. A keen observer, however, will not miss the gap between the gospel injunction to spread the Kingdom of God seen as one of justice and love and the reality of evil embodied in corruption prevalent today in Africa. The fact that Christian institutions and personalities have been a dominant aspect of the post-colonial African landscape, notwithstanding, corruption has remained a corrosive influence and a factor in the underdevelopment matrix.


Growth of the church refers to two things: on the one hand there is an increase in the actual number of people professing to be Christians in Africa. And on the other, there is an increase in the number of ‘churches’ and other institutions labelled "Christian". At least one country, Zambia has been declared a Christian country. And Catholics as well as the mainstream Protestant churches - the Lutherans and the Anglicans - have witnessed growth in numbers. There is also a veritable increase in the number of people belonging to the Pentecostal churches in the continent.

Hackett (2004) has characterized the African religious landscape as ‘complex.’ In a 1996 census in South Africa, for example, 4,500 names of African independent churches were discovered. Overall there are an estimated over 12,000 religious movements in sub-Saharan Africa (Hackett 2004). According to Boschman (1996), African-initiated, African-instituted or “new generation” churches are now popular labels. Meanwhile, Ukah (2003) has noted that Africa has become a fertile ground for the proliferation of independent churches. Paradoxically, corruption understood as “impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle” is thriving in Africa. Corruption is also defined as “inducement (as of political official) by means of improper considerations (as bribery) to commit a violation of duty.” In the Tanzanian bureaucratic system, for example, corruption has been sanitized by the use of euphemisms such as “kitu kidogo” (a small thing) and “mshiko” (a handshake). The two terms camouflage the enormity of the evil that is corruption in politically correct language.


The frenetic growth of the church in sub-Saharan Africa belies one reality: the history of evangelisation in Africa has been rather chequered. The Biblical tales of the Queen of Sheba and the refugee child Jesus in Egypt anchored Africa firmly in the economy of salvation. Yet it took three attempts to introduce Christianity in Africa. The first attempt, in the apostolic times, was in North Africa. By the year 200 AD Christianity was established in Africa and it produced church fathers like Origen and theologians like St Augustine of Hippo.

Although short lived, the epoch left a lasting impact on theology and church history. Christianity of this apostolic era was wiped out by the Muslim conquests around 640 AD. The second attempt was in Angola spearheaded by the Portuguese missionaries in the Kongo Kingdom in the 15th century. The attempt fizzled out as well when the Portuguese colonial adventure was ended by popular uprisings. The third attempt came riding the crest of colonial conquests at the end of the 19th century. Statistics are telling. The number of Christians has increased from one million in 1900 when Islam was the dominant religion to 350 million in 2000 (Oliver 1956). Some estimates show that out of an estimated one billion Africans - including people in the Arab North Africa - about 400 million are Christians. Since in the sub-Saharan Africa Muslims are only 150 million it means that Islam has been overtaken by Christianity as the dominant religion in the sub-Saharan Africa.

A direct correlation between the growth of Christianity in Africa and the growth of corruption is not obvious, however. Corruption and the church are linked only by association as the post-colonial institutions are said to be pervaded with Christian values - the same institutions said to be riddled with corruption. The call for the establishment of an Islamic state in many an African state, for example, is often characterized as necessary to root out corruption.


There are two dimensions in the growth of the church: the numbers of believers and diversity of churches. Walber Bűhlman in his book The Coming of the Third Church suggested that the center of gravity of Christianity was shifting from the North-to-South way back in the 1970s. Jenkins (2003) has shown that by 2025 there will be 633 million Christians in Africa and only 560 in Europe. Africa will thus overtake Europe as the centre of Christianity.

The growth of Christianity has been dramatic. The World Missionary Conference of 1910 in Edinburgh divided the world between (1) missionized areas – Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand and (2) the rest of the world including Africa “not yet fully missionized.” But less than a century on – the non-missionized countries are sending missionaries to the once missionized countries in the west. The dramatic expansion of Christianity in the South, according to Jenkins, goes hand-in-hand with its withering in the North.


Corruption in a popular parlance is usually reduced to bribe taking. The reality of corruption, however, is much more complex and multifarious. But a correlation between “growth of the church and growth of corruption” is not yet empirically established. By citing some cases here, one seeks to underlie the fact that corruption is a reality - alive and kicking. Lately, new religious movements have been accompanied by tales of leaders going to extraordinary lengths to fleece their congregations. Anecdotal evidence abounds.

For example in 2007, a Ugandan pastor was accused of using a magnetic device to shock believers into spasms making them believe they were possessed of the Spirit. The gimmick invested the pastor with an aura of supernatural powers, which lured more people to his church and naturally more tithes.

A successful Tanzanian minister built a multi-million religious empire by encouraging the faithful to give a chunk of their wealth as a sign of commitment. Two cases are cited here from the mainstream churches to indicate the pervasiveness of the reality of corruption. Both cases were widely reported in the media.

There is a caveat, however. Corruption is neither limited to Christians nor Christian institutions. The cases cited are not meant to imply a cause-effect relationship between growth of the church and growth of corruption. The cases merely show that corruption is a reality even within the Church institutions.

CASE STUDY ONE - Victoria Nyanza Anglican Diocese – A crisis of leadership

The leadership crisis that engulfed Victoria Nyanza Anglican Diocese in March 2007 had classic markings of corruption. A bishop was accused by the faithful of abuse of office, nepotism, and embezzlement of funds. Members locked the bishop out of the cathedral. Amid raucous claims and counter-claims played out in the media, the bishop was relieved of his responsibilities. The case had two dimensions: the bishop accused of corruption in terms of accumulating wealth for private interests and the claim that ethnic sentiments were behind the eviction as the bishop didn’t belong to the most prominent tribe in the area. Corruption in the form of abuse of power is a recurrent problem in the African church.

CASE STUDY TWO - A Catholic Priest and a Witchdoctor

Was it greed? Or was it a case of excessive gullibility? It is not easy to tell what really besieged two priests of the Catholic diocese of Mbulu Diocese in Tanzania in 2003. The media reports show that the treasurer lost US $ 300,000 (Tsh. 300,000,000) to a con man. The money belonged to the Catholic diocese of Mbulu in Tanzania. The details, when they came out, were stranger than fiction. The conman led the two priests into believing that once money is entrusted to him, he had powers to increase it twice over. Once the conman had received the money, however, he disappeared.


Transparency International (TI) has routinely rated African countries as some of the most corrupt on earth. But no studies have sought to gauge corruption within the church as well. The question is whether a correlation exists between the growth of the church and the growth of corruption. Naturally, corruption culture may be a function of other variables besides religion. Still tangential evidence of corruption in the church is compelling. The first generation of post-independence African leaders - save for a few like Ahmed Ahidjo in Cameroon and Modibo Keita in Mali - were Christians. Yet evidence of corruption exists even in Zambia – a country labeled a Christian country in the 1990s. Eerily President Fredrick Chiluba of Zambia became embroiled in a corruption scandal after his tenure as president. The niggling question is: would corruption be less of an issue without Christianity in Africa?


The church is both human and divine. Its members are naturally capable of saintly as well as sinful acts. The cases cited are only indicative of the fact that the church is besotted with problems. Still the church is also a community of grace capable of immense good. A lot of good has been done and continues to be done in the name of the church. The association of dominant Christian values and institutions in the post-colony have sometimes reflected badly on the church.


(1) Chinua Achebe. 1983. The Trouble with Nigeria. Enugu: FDP, pp. 38. (2) A number of writers have suggested that sub-Saharan Africa’s post-colonial institutions are pervaded by the western, Christian values. Aboud Jumbe. 1995. The Partnership: Tanganyika – Zanzibar Union 30 Turbulent Years. Dar es Salaam; Mohamed, Said. 1998. The life and Times of Abdulwahid Sykes (1924-1968). The Untold story of the Muslim Struggle against British Colonialism in Tanganyika. Minerva Press: Paris; Mazrui, Ali A. 2006. Islam: Between globalization and counter-terrorism. Oxford: James Currey; Mazrui, Ali. 1986. The Africans: A Triple Heritage. London: BBC Publications. (3) See Marjorie Froise. 2000. South African Christian Handbook. South Africa: Welkom, pp. 64-65. (4) Webster’s Third International Dictionary: Unabridged. 1993. Cologne: Könemann. (5) See Daniel Balint-Kurti. Catholicism, Islam facing off in Africa at (6) See Mohamed, Said. 1998. The life and Times of Abdulwahid Sykes (1924-1968). The Untold story of the Muslim Struggle against British Colonialism in Tanganyika. Minerva Press: Paris (7) See David Barrett. 1970. AD 2000: 350 million Christians in Africa. International Mission Review of Mission. 59(39-54) (8) Ross Douthat. The Christian Future at (9) Christopher Fyfe & Andrew Walls. Eds. 1996. Christianity in the 1990s. Edinburgh: CAS, pp. 2. (10) Emmanuel Chacha. 2007. Askofu Anglikana atimuliwa at (11)